Long ago, the Jutes, the people of Jutland, were a separate tribe from the more warlike Danes who occupied the eastern islands. By the Viking era, however, the battling Danes had spread west, absorbing the Jutes, and real power gradually shifted towards Zealand, where it has largely stayed ever since. Now, Århus, Denmark’s second city halfway up the eastern coast, and Aalborg, capital of northern Jutland, are vibrant, cosmopolitan urban centres that draw those who dare to venture on from the other, more frequently visited, centres. To the west, the landscape becomes ever-more dramatic, with heather-clad moors and forests inland and both fjord and sea coastlines to explore – and the foreign tourists dry out completely. North of Aalborg the landscape becomes increasingly wind-battered and stark until it reaches Skagen, on the peninsula’s tip.
Top image © everst/Shutterstock
North Jutland’s main city, AALBORG has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Long renowned for its raucous nightlife and nearby Viking burial ground, this city with nigh-on 200,000 within its metropolitan area has redeveloped its waterfront with hugely impressive results to showcase its industrial heritage, while not detracting from its substantial medieval core. It’s also the main transport terminus for the region, and makes an exciting stopover on the way north to Skagen.
The stunning modern gallery that is Kunsten Museum of Modern Art (Tues–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–5pm; 95kr, free in Dec) is close to a sculpture park (take bus #15 or walk ten minutes west of the train station). Just west of here, up a staircase through woods, is the Aalborg Tower (late March to Oct 10/11am–5pm; 40kr), with spectacular city views and a restaurant.
A few kilometres north of Aalborg via bus #2 (15min), atmospheric Lindholm Høje (Lindholm Hills; free) is Scandinavia’s largest Viking burial site with more than seven hundred graves. Visit early or late in the day and you'll see the slanting sunlight glint off the burial stones, many of which are set in the outline of a Viking ship. It’s worth stopping by the site’s impressive museum (April–Oct daily 10am–5pm; Nov–March Tues–Sun 10am–4pm; 60kr).
Aalborg’s well-preserved old town centres on the Gothic cathedral, the Budolfi Kirke (June–Aug Mon–Fri 9am–4pm, Sat 9am–2pm; Sept–May Mon–Fri 9am–3pm, Sat 9am–noon). On the other side of Østerågade, sixteenth-century Aalborghus Castle is notable for its dungeon (May–Oct Mon–Fri 8am–3pm; free) and underground passages (open till 9pm). Leading down to the waterfront is bar-lined Jomfru Ane Gade, Aalborg’s booziest street.
The waterfront is undergoing substantial development, and has recently added a cruise-ship terminal and landscaped park, with more restaurants, bars and shops on the cards. The showpiece attraction is Nordkraft (Kjellerups torv 5), housed in a former power station five minutes’ walk east of the centre, near the big new shopping centre Friis, and containing a cinema, theatre/concert venue, several restaurants and the tourist office. Just north, towards the water, stands the House of Music, a cultural and performance space, and home to the Royal Academy of Music. A short walk west is the Utzon Center (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; 60kr), designed by the man who gave the world the Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon. Utzon was born in Aalborg and left the city this fitting architectural masterpiece, inspired by the old shipyards hereabouts, shortly before his death. It’s a showcase for contemporary design and has a wonderful café. A ten-minute walk further west is the distinctive V&S Distillery at Olesens Gade 1, home of the potent Scandinavian spirit Aquavit, though unfortunately they only offer tours for large groups.
Denmark’s second-largest city, ÅRHUS, is an attractive assortment of intimate cobbled streets, sleek modern architecture, brightly painted houses and student hangouts. It’s small enough to get to grips with in a few hours, but lively enough to make you linger for days – an excellent music scene (especially for jazzophiles), interesting art, pavement cafés and energetic nightlife all earn it the unofficial title of Denmark’s capital of culture. And Århus keeps ratcheting up its reputation – as European Capital of Culture in 2017 it has been adding new events and attractions.
ARoS (Tues & Thurs–Sun 10am–5pm, Wed 10am–10pm; 120kr) is one of Europe’s most beautiful contemporary buildings and a fantastic modern art museum. It contains seven floors of works from the late eighteenth century to the present day, accessed from a centrepiece spiral walkway reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim. The Skagen artists head the fine collection of home-grown art, though the likes of Warhol are also represented along with the eerie 5m-high Boy, by Australian sculptor Ron Mueck. Its standout permanent exhibit is artist Olafur Eliasson’s fantastical addition to the roof, known as Your Rainbow Panorama. Suspended between city and sky, and loosely inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, this 150m circular pathway spans the colour spectrum and gives panoramic views over the city.
A short walk northwest of the centre is one of the city’s best-known attractions, Den Gamle By, on Viborgvej (The Old Town; daily: Jan 11am–3pm; early Feb to late March 10am–4pm; late March to June & mid-Aug to Dec 10am–5pm; July to mid-Aug 10am–6pm; 135kr), an open-air museum of traditional Danish life, with half-timbered townhouses and actors in contemporary dress. Many buildings date from the 1800s, but a new town expansion features shops and homes from the 1920s and 1970s. You can enter places such as a pastry shop, a haberdashery and a gynaecologist clinic, and there are also pony rides, a bookshop and a working central telephone switchboard. Close by are the pleasant botanical gardens (Mon–Sat 1–3pm, Sun 11am–3pm; free).
Marselisborg Skov, 3km south of the centre, is the city’s largest park, and home to the summer residence of the Danish royals: its landscaped grounds can be visited when the monarch isn’t staying (usually at all times outside Easter, Christmas and late June to early Aug; bus #19).
Ten kilometres south of Århus, the striking, just-refurbished Moesgård Museum (Tues & Fri–Sun 10am–5pm, Wed & Thurs 10am–9pm; 130kr; bus #6) details Danish civilizations from the Stone Age onwards. Its most notable exhibit is the “Grauballe Man”, a startlingly well-preserved sacrificial victim dating from around 100 BC discovered in a peat bog west of town in 1952. Also remarkable is the Illerup Ådal collection of Iron Age weapons and the scenic “prehistoric trail” which runs 3km to the sea.
Mainland Denmark’s loveliest scenery lies northwest of Århus, with the big draw being the country’s first national park, Thy, created in 2008. It’s a lonely tract of wild beach and inland heath containing the Danish surfing centre of Klitmøller, and backing onto vast fjords such as Limfjorden, producing some of the world’s finest oysters.
Jutland has two main international ferry ports. Esbjerg has overnight ferries to/from Britain. The train station is at the end of Skolegade, and, at no. 33, you’ll find the tourist office.
Frederikshavn, in the far north of the region, has express ferries to Sweden and Norway. Its ferry terminal is near Havnepladsen, not far from the centre, while all buses and most trains terminate at the central train station, a short walk from the town centre; some trains continue to the ferry terminal itself. The tourist office is close by at Skandiatorv 1.
About 100km north of Aalborg, SKAGEN lies at the very top of Denmark amid breathtaking heather-topped sand dunes. A popular resort, it attracts thousands of visitors annually thanks to its artistic links to the past and spectacular seafood restaurants.
Denmark’s northernmost tip is at Grenen, 3km from Skagen along Strandvej and the beach, where two seas – the Kattegat and Skagerrak – meet, often with a powerful clashing of waves. You can get here by tractor-drawn bus (April to mid-Oct; 30kr return) – although it’s an enjoyable walk through beautiful seaside scenery. At the tip you’ll find some fascinating World War II heritage, an ambient restaurant and miles of blissful quiescence.
Skagen has long been popular with artists thanks to the warm, golden sunlight that illuminates its coastal scenery. During the 1870s a group of painters inspired by naturalism settled here and began to paint the local fishermen working on the beaches as well as each other. The Skagen artists, among them Michael and Anna Ancher and P.S. Krøyer, stayed until the turn of the century and achieved international recognition for their work, now on display at the Skagen Museum.